News Briefs

February 01, 1998 3 min read

Feldman Focuses

Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, will give up the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s powerful New York City local, effective February 2. For the past eight months, Feldman has led both organizations. She is leaving the UFT job, which she has held for 11 years, to work full time for the national. “I find that I have so little personal time that I can’t refuel,” Feldman said in a letter to UFT members. “I haven’t enough time to think and strategize.” Feldman was tapped by the AFT’s executive committee in May to serve out the term of the late Albert Shanker. Her successor at the UFT will be named this month.

Assigning Blame

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Polk County, Florida, school district can be held liable for negligence in the suicide of one of its students. Carol Wyke, the mother of the student, sued the district claiming it had failed to notify her that her son, Shawn, had attempted suicide at school before killing himself at home in 1989. The 13-year-old McLaughlin Junior High student had attempted to hang himself in a school restroom but was talked out of it by another boy, whose mother later told the dean of students about the incident. According to court papers, the dean responded by calling Shawn to his office and reading Bible verse to him, but the official did not notify the boy’s mother. Wyke filed both a federal lawsuit and a negligence claim under state law [“Casting Blame,” November/December 1994]. A U.S. district judge dismissed the federal suit, but a jury awarded her $165,000 in damages in the state case. On appeal, the 11th Circuit Court upheld the judge’s dismissal of the federal case and supported his decision to allow the state case to go to jury. “We do not believe (and neither did the jury) that a prudent person would have needed a crystal ball to see that Shawn needed help and that if he didn’t get it soon, he might attempt suicide again,” the appeals panel said in its November ruling.

Teacher Power

In the rough-and-tumble of politics in the nation’s capital, the National Education Association, with its 2.3 million members and fat war chest, has the muscle to grapple with the strongest competitors. That, anyway, is the view of 329 lawmakers, White House aides, lobbyists, and academics polled by Fortune magazine. Based on the survey, Fortune ranked the NEA as Washington’s 9th most effective lobbying organization. “They’re a force day in and day out,” says Mark Mellman, the Democratic half of the bipartisan polling team that conducted the survey for the magazine’s December 8 issue. The union’s political-action committee distributed $2.3 million to federal candidates—99 percent to Democrats—in the 1995-96 election cycle. But money alone doesn’t ensure a ranking in the power elite, according to Mellman. “First in order of importance is the ability to generate grassroots activities,” Mellman says.

Girls And Steroids

With ever more athletic opportunities being dangled in front of them, growing numbers of high school girls are abusing anabolic steroids in an effort to build strength and trim fat. A Pennsylvania State University study published in December in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that as many as 175,000 high school girls—or 1.4 percent of girls in 9th through 12th grades—have used steroids at least once in their lives, up from 0.4 percent in 1991. The report attributes the rise to several factors, including growing participation by girls in competitive sports, greater competition for athletic scholarships, and expanded Olympic and professional opportunities for female athletes. The study also says that many women see steroids as a way to get a lean, muscular “hard body.” But anabolic steroids—synthetic steroid hormones that help the growth of muscle and other tissue—can cause serious side effects, the report says, including cardiovascular disease, liver problems, and reproductive dysfunction. Women who use steroids can experience breast shrinkage, male hair growth, a deepening voice, and menstrual abnormalities. “People—coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves—are turning a blind eye to the effects that these drugs can have,” says Charles Yesalis, lead author of the study. “We have 175,000 girls putting the primary male sex hormone—testosterone—into their bodies. That should sound the alarm.”